Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Jhabvala is a straightforward storyteller who generally uses little literary embellishment in her fiction. “The Englishwoman” sets out its facts right at the start. Within a few paragraphs the reader is comfortably aware of the background. However, Jhabvala also manages to arouse one’s curiosity by providing snippets of information that the reader will want explained—for example, why Sadie is so eager to leave a thirty-year marriage, or why her husband’s mistress is so upset at her impending departure—thereby ensuring that the story captures one’s attention and sustains it.

Jhabvala also appears to be writing with a wider, non-Indian audience in mind—one for whom she provides sympathetic and accurate insights into Indian family life. While explaining, for example, why Sadie felt so out of place in a house teeming with relatives when her son was sick, she also points out that the prevailing social structure is respected and relied on by the insiders, including her son, who enjoyed the great fuss made over him.

Jhabvala uses imagery sparingly, allowing the facts and details to convey the sense of her story. At the end of the story, when she describes Sadie’s transformation of a moonlit Indian garden into a soft English landscape, the scene becomes an especially evocative image that provides both a sense of closure and the hint of a new beginning in Sadie’s life.